Saskatchewan will release a plan later this week to get the province back to normal, though politicians and health officials in the province have warned that whatever this “normal” is, it won’t yet look anything like it did in April 2019.
A week ago, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe hinted that, should cases and transmission continue to decline in the prairie province, a plan could be released this week detailing what re-opening the province would look like.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Moe would address the province on Wednesday, and release the re-opening plan on Thursday.
Facing spring weather, mounting pressure from cooped-up constituents — and most importantly, a slowing growth rate in COVID-19 cases — provincial premiers have begun floating the idea of relaxing some of the restrictions in place.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has also pledged a “re-opening plan” and B.C. has hinted at a gradual re-opening beginning in mid-May.
As of Tuesday, Saskatchewan had 320 confirmed COVID-19 cases; 64 were considered “active.” Those 320 cases are spread over a population of less than 1.2 million, putting the per 100,000 infection rate at 26, compared to higher figures in other provinces.
Cheryl Camillo, a professor at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, says Saskatchewan’s small population has made a difference in its infection rate when compared to more densely populated provinces.
“One of my favourite memes I saw early on during the pandemic was … ‘Saskatchewan, social distancing since 1905,'” Camillo said. “That does help here.”
“Now, none of this is a reason for complacency,” Moe said last week. “But it is a reason for cautious optimism. And it means that we can start to think about what the process of reopening Saskatchewan will look like.”
Provincial health officials said new modelling would be released next week on Saskatchewan’s projected future, containing data on the scope of the outbreak.
What happens next remains to be seen. In recent days, new cases of COVID-19 have spiked. While April 20 saw just one new case, there were four on Tuesday. On April 17, there were six new cases.
Moe’s “cautious optimism” from last week may wind up being more measured.
On Monday, when just one new case of COVID-19 was announced, Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer of health, said: “We are managing to keep the curve flat and actually bend it downwards, so that’s very reassuring.”
But he stressed the new normal may indeed look very different. “Until such time that there’s an effective vaccine or treatment, or until such time that most of us have some level of immunity, we will have to maintain physical distancing,” Shahab said.
“You just don’t know — that’s the thing about viruses, and that’s what makes it really difficult for government to plan the future,” said Camillo. “You just don’t know where it’ll re-emerge.”
With files from the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and The Canadian Press